The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 48 of 67

MAY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 49   FOOTBALL RECRUITING its and in-depth Zoom call meetings. The pair value what Cheeks brings to the table from a skill set standpoint. Like Burnham, Cheeks has the ver- satility to play multiple spots in U-M's scheme. Helow and Macdonald have pitched him on that and made him once again feel like a wanted man. "[Helow and Macdonald] are really great guys," Cheeks said. "They're down to earth. They've been telling me that they are keeping me a prior- ity. From talking to [early enrollee freshman] J.J. [McCarthy] and [early enrollee linebacker] Junior Colson, they relay the message as well. I'm just happy that the communication is open. The first day Coach Helow came in, he reached out to me. "That Ravens defense is some- thing. [Macdonald] has been show- ing me some things scheme wise and how I would fit into the defense. It's made an impact on me. I'm versa- tile. He wants me to play all over the field. That's where I'm at my best. Hopefully, I can do that." Both Helow and Macdonald have connections in the South. Macdonald has experience as a graduate assis- tant at Georgia, while Helow is origi- nally from the Jacksonville, Fla., area and won some key recruiting battles there during his time at Maryland. So it's no surprise U-M is target- ing more linebacker prospects in the South. One of the most talented on the board is Mobile (Ala.) Faith Acad- emy's Shemar James,'s No. 215 overall prospect nationally. Listed as an athlete, James plays both wide receiver and safety at the high school level but projects as a hellacious hybrid linebacker that can come off the edge or play in space. James recently released a top eight, with seven of the schools being tra- ditional Southern powers such as Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU. There was, however, one outlier — Michigan. Along with Helow and Macdonald, the Wolverines also have another staff member with Southern ties in analyst Aashon Larkins, who recruited the state of Alabama hard during his time at various stops in the Southeast. "Michigan is a top school because Coach Larkins was straight up with me," James said. "He told me that if I want to be great and be devel- oped, Michigan is the place. I talked to Coach Macdonald, and he has a lot of experience. He can help me get to the next level. "Coach Macdonald told me that I'm a great linebacker. He thinks that I can fit into their scheme really well as a hybrid linebacker. I can play anywhere — inside or outside." Of course, Helow is using his Sun- shine State roots to his advantage. The Wolverines are in play for a handful of intriguing linebackers in Florida, including Jacksonville (Fla.) Bartram Trail edge rusher Micah Pollard. Helow is serving as the primary re- cruiter for Pollard, the No. 39 outside linebacker nationally per, and has the Wolverines in the pole position early on. "He's really cool," Pollard said. "It's really fun talking to him. He gets to the point. He's real with you. He's just a cool coach and a good person. It's good to know that there is someone from Jacksonville at Michigan. He is someone I can have a connection with." Pollard also has his own family connection to Michigan. The three- star recruit is the nephew of former Michigan great Braylon Edwards, who was one of college football's most dominant wide receivers in the early 2000s. "We were just on the phone, and he told me not to feel forced to go to Michigan," Pollard said of his un- cle. "He wants me to make the right choice. But he did tell me it's a good school with a great community and program. It would be really cool to go to Michigan like he did." Michigan has already locked in an official visit with three-star Fort Lau- derdale (Fla.) Stranahan linebacker Omar Graham,'s No. 32 outside linebacker nationally. Graham is set to see Ann Arbor on June 18 and has the Wolverines in his top seven. Michigan had success in Fort Lau- derdale last cycle with three-star linebacker Jaydon Hood and three- star cornerback Ja'Den McBurrows. And Helow and the Wolverines are definitely moving the needle with Graham, who is being recruited as a thumping inside linebacker. "I've been building a good rela- tionship with Coach Helow," Gra- ham said. "He's a really cool guy. He's been reaching out to my family a lot. He's heavily involved my aun- tie and my dad in this process, so that stands out about him. It's also cool that he's from Florida. "Michigan is a great school. They have a lot of history and tradition. I know they have great academics, and I want to learn more about their sports management program." Four-star Kissimmee (Fla.) Tohope- kaliga's Demario Tolan,'s No. 154 overall prospect nationally, is the most sought-after of the trio of linebacker targets from Florida. The 6-3, 205-pounder is an athletic speci- men and head basher in the middle of the defense, but he can also play in space and come off the edge. Simply put, Tolan can do it all and would be a special land for the Wolverines. "[Helow and Macdonald] love the way I play," Tolan said. "They said they loved the speed I play with, how fast I swarm to the ball and the smarts I have. I can tell they want me. They're hammering my brain with the fact that they want me. "I know that they play big-time football. That's what I love about Michigan. They just offered, so I want to know about the academics, how they practice, what the facilities look like and all of that." Despite the coaching fluidity and last month's loss of Burnham to a bit- ter rival, the future of Michigan line- backer recruiting looks bright under both Helow and Macdonald. Obviously, the next step is reeling them in. ❑ The Wolverines made the top eight put out by four-star athlete Shemar James,'s No. 215 overall recruit nationally, whom U-M is recruiting at linebacker. PHOTO BY CHAD SIMMONS/RIVALS.COM

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